THERE have been few smiles around Dublin this week but Ireland coach Declan Kidney raised one on Friday when he began a long spiel about how this evening’s game could defy the odds and end up a free-flowing classic only to tail off and conclude that he would be delighted with a 3-0 win.
His sentiments echo precisely those of his opposite number Philippe Saint-André. This is the mother of must-win matches for the respective coaches.
The loser tonight will almost certainly be out of work by the end of the season. Should Ireland lose and Scotland win today the Irish could plunge to 10th in the IRB world rankings, their lowest position in their history and unacceptable for a rugby nation which won the Grand Slam in 2009.
Defeat would also raise the prospect of their first wooden spoon since 1998.
France, meanwhile, have not won a Six Nations game in over a year having recorded five losses and a draw in their last six matches.
Not since the Fifties have France performed so lamentably in the championship and it is indicative of the affection that Saint-André is held in by both the French public and press that the outcry has thus far been muted. That patience is running out, however, as the former France captain will discover if it all goes pear-shaped again in Dublin.
In their moment of crisis both coaches are rolling the dice and chancing on No 10. Kidney by showing faith in the young and inexperienced Paddy Jackson, Saint-André by again giving a vote of confidence to Frédéric Michalak, a selection that leaves most of France hiding behind the settee as they watch the TV.
Ireland were expecting to line up against François Trinh-Duc and Ireland captain Jamie Heaslip will go looking for Michalak who has crumbled many times before when the pressure is on.
“Michalak poses a lot of threats to us from a defending point of view but there are weaknesses as well in his game like any player,” Heaslip said on Friday. “We have to look after him when he has the ball and then see how we can work it from what we have spotted in the video work.”
Finding the revealing footage will not have taxed Ireland too much.
France have picked the pack that started against England and the logic, if there is any, of reverting back to Michalak is that he provides an extra international class goal-kicker alongside Morgan Parra.
With their strong scrum they will look to capitalise on every last points scoring opportunity while Maxime Médard – back to full fitness after his anterior cruciate ligament injury – and Yoann Huget will be expected to deal with the expected aerial bombardment.
Ireland could and should be more ambitious. Barely five weeks ago they opened up the Six Nations with 50 minutes of lacerating rugby to reduce Wales to rubble and pile up 30 points on hostile territory. Has their game really deteriorated so much that a humble 3-0 win will now suffice? It would appear so.
“I would never second guess a Six Nations game, anything can happen,” Kidney said. “Did anybody predict our opening against Wales last month?
"France and Ireland in recent years had produced plenty of points, typically between 30-40 per game and it could do again but having said I would definitely take a 3-0 win myself.”
You can feel the tension everywhere, so much so that actually playing will be a release for all concerned tonight and unexpected classic might just ensue after all
- Brendan Gallagher, Telegraph.co.uk